Workflow Friday: Jason Anderson

Photoshop Workflows

For this edition of our Photoshop Workflow series, we welcome the Canon Blogger himself, Jason Anderson. Jason will be taking us away from the processing side of things and delving deeper into the terribly important, yet oft overlooked best practices of digital asset management.

Without further ado… Heeeeere’s Jason! 

First off, I would like to thank Jason for sharing his blog with such a wide range of both skilled and professional photographers as well as those of us who are, let’s just say, a little lower on the learning curve of this great field of photography.  It is quite an honor to be here today.

For my contribution, I would like to share something that is not often talked about, and that is digital asset management.  As I begin, I would like to say, for the record, that I am certainly not a professional photographer, so my images aren’t nearly important to me as those digital negatives are to pros like wedding photographers, graphic artists, and the like.  Having said that, as a self-professed geek, and an IT nerd, it is equally important for me to state that my file integrity is pretty darned important to me.

Notice how I started off by stating that my file integrity is important to me.  That is because a photograph stored on a computer is just that – a file; nothing more, and nothing less.  It literally is just a bunch of ones and zeros to the computer, and a computer (or more accurately the hard drive within your computer) doesn’t care whether the file contains information about a possible photograph (something that creates a picture when printed) or a possible text file (something that creates a document when printed).  As a result, all the files on your computer are treated with equal care by the computer itself.

On a larger scale, it is important to understand that the concepts demonstrated here relate to more than just your photograph-type files.  These principles and concepts apply to everything.  I am talking about everything – your photos, your music, your videos, even those silly email forwards you’ve downloaded to save about something pithy that you just don’t want to delete, but will likely never read again!  These are all your digital assets.  However, since we are admittedly talking within the parameters of a photography blog, I’ll limit the specifics to that file format most relevant – the digital negative.  Keep in mind though, there are more assets out there than our negatives, and we must make plans to care for those assets as well.  However, I’ll cut to the chase for the purposes of this post.

Your answer on how to create a BEST PRACTICES FOR DIGITAL ASSET MANAGEMENT SYSTEM lies in reading, understanding, and adopting the practices of The DAM Book – Digital Asset Management for Photographers, by Peter Krogh.  Although this was written in the ancient days of CS2, the principles still apply. 

Now it’s time for another revelation – I don’t follow the DAM book to the letter.  It’s my weakness.  I always strive for the best of intentions, but am never able to completely conquer a task to the degree that I would wish.  Whether restricted by time, finances or other ends, it’s something that I admit I will never get a complete handle on.  So, what’s a guy (or gal) like me to do?  The best that you can!  And here is my method for doing just that – the best that I can given my limited resources both in the way of time and assets.

First off, after I am finished shooting (most of the time), I will take the CF card out of the camera, insert into a card reader, and connect to my computer.  My computer houses only one onboard hard drive – for my operating system and program files.  I don’t care whether you are running Windows or Mac, a desktop or laptop, this should apply for everyone!  The OS drive should never contain your important documents, because that is the one most likely to fail and unable to “boot”.  My other “drive”, is a USB connected SAN drive – a Western Digital 1TB drive, consisting of 2 500GB drives.  Instead of leaving it as a single unit, I broke the drive up and made it the 2 500GB drives.  Here’s why – backups!

Yes, I am going to lecture on backing up for just a moment – primarily because of the way I have this set up.  Guess how often I back up my data?  Never!  I don’t do a darned thing!  Once, just once, I set up a script file that does a backup of the 1st 500 GB drive to the second.  The script is scheduled to run nightly.  So, for me it’s been a set-and-forget process. That way I know anything that goes on that SAN is backed up.

Here you might wonder why I am calling this USB connected drive a SAN.  The reason is because this drive is shared out across my internal network.  I have a network of anywhere from 3 to 6 computers running, and since all computers (except one) get their internet address from the router, each computer can see one another.  My Macbook Pro has the iTunes and iPhoto libraries housed on the network drive.  My Windows computer has its My Documents folder pointing to a shared location on the network drive.  All my important file are on this network drive.  I have it labeled “Y”.

Sure, I could build a RAID array, but that takes time and money.  I could even buy a Drobo, but that takes money.  The idea of this SAN came about as a cost effective and time efficient way to maximize safety and minimize risk.  I am somewhat safe here, but nevertheless, I am at risk.  The reason is because there is no system (in my mind) that is 100% risk free.  Drives will fail, and when that day comes, it will be a matter of minimizing your losses and maximizing your recovery. 

Enough about backups though – the bottom line is to come up with a backup system and do it – regularly.  Script it, schedule it, or whatever, but you just have to DO IT!  Okay, now on to my method for digital asset management

Rather than just explain it, let me help with a visual.  Look at image #1 – here you can see my desktop folders on the Windows computer.  It has a Y drive – this is the SAN drive.

Jason Anderson #1

Now, look at image #2 – here you see the wide array of file types I have on the SAN – probably more stuff than I need on there, and it is always due for maintenance and cleaning, but I digress.  A root level folder I have there is called images.  Guess what’s housed in here?

Jason Anderson #2

Now, look at image #3 – I have all my images categorized by subject matter.  This tells me what the folder contains, and is a good starting point for finding something I am looking for.  Are there times where I haven’t found what I was looking for (calling U2…)?  Sure – but only because I had deviated from my own system!  When I adhere to my system, it works.

Jason Anderson #3

So, what about edits of files?  Workups?  Printed versions?  Web Versions?  Well, thanks for asking!  Let’s take a look at a sample folder.  Look at image #4.  Here I have the original raw files.  Now also notice the sub folders within that category.  At this point it’s just a matter of remembering to save your output to the right location.  If you do that, all your images will be easily found.  Notice that I don’t change my filenames to match a description or anything, like the DAM book suggests.  For me that’s just personal preference.  If I need a file named that way for web submission (like to Popular Photography or some other venue, I’ll make my first save to the Y drive, then copy to the desktop for emailing and rename as they request.  That file then gets deleted off my desktop.

Jason Anderson #4

So, why do I only have 250GB of image files and it’s less than that, remember the other assets?)?  Chimping!  I chimp in-camera.  If my flash didn’t fire, a shot is under exposed or over exposed, I just delete it.  I will even delete if a quick glance on the composition looks bad…if it looks bad on a 3” screen how will a 22” screen make it look better?  I delete!  I have other methods too – and here I side with Dave Cross, because I love Adobe Bridge!

When I get the files into the unsorted folder I am brutal on myself.  I delete anything that doesn’t make me go “oooh, that has possibilities!”.  If I see any two shots that look pretty darn close, I’ll increase the thumbnails to see if I had a blinker – if not, I delete one.  If I see 4-5 shots that are all close to one another I actually keep those because 4-5 in succession tells me I am bracketing exposures.  Here I can winnow out another third of my shooting efforts in the field.  Once I have deleted all the files I don’t want, I then move the remaining images at that moment to a new folder via the “Move” command (who’d have thunk that?) right there in Bridge.  If I have a pre-existing folder, that’s where the images go (Maggie is a good one – I take lots of shots of my dog).  If I don’t have a pre-existing folder – I make one, right there.  It takes 5 seconds, and it also forces me to get a few tags ready for the images mentally.  Because once the images are moved, I start tagging. 

Here is where I agree and adhere to the DAM book.  I add the tag info for all shots on import into Bridge!  Here I also go through even more methodically and star the images, 1-4.  This helps the winnowing process.  My rule of thumb:  Ones are deleted if I don’t see any modifications after 6 months – it means the shot has not stayed with me, so why should it stay for anyone else?  Twos are maintained because there could be just minor flaws or things that I just would like to retain for documentary reasons.  Threes and fours are my gallery quality work.  Threes are the ones that have potential with a few tweaks in either PS or even just ACR.  Fours, I don’t even edit – they are great in camera and I just leave intact for cropping, outputting to print or whatever!

You’d think that’s it but there’s one more caveat to all of this.  Remember those raw files you see at the root of each subject folder?  I also burn a copy of these to DVD after import.  Sometimes it takes more than one DVD.  Sometimes, it even takes 3 or 4.  But I do this to maintain a second copy of all negatives.  I know, they don’t have permanence like a hard drive or other possible storage – but I figure with the mirrored hard drive creating a backup, and then a DVD copy stored elsewhere (this little bugger sits in the trunk of my car in the middle of the spare tire…check out image #5 below).  That pretty much mitigates my risk.  Is it gone?  Nope, my computer could fail, the SAN could crash, the backup skipped for that day, and the DVD could be scratched beyond readability – but what are the odds of that?  It’s a matter of tilting the odds in your favor, and here I think I’ve accomplished that.  It may not be as fancy as all the Drobos people are talking about – but I just can’t justify the $500 for each unit and then the cost of all the drives.  This is a triple backup solution, and I do it for $200.

Jason Anderson #5

The last caveat in all of this is understanding that your asset management needs will change as your library expands.  I know this system won’t last me forever, and eventually, a Drobo or RAID solution might be called for.  But with my photography, I can certainly keep things in check by just being honest with myself about the “keepers” versus “throw-aways”.  Think about it – how many images are you keeping that you really could throw away?   Sure, storage is cheap, but does that mean we shouldn’t be critical of our work?  Hopefuly, that’s some food for thought.  I know, the subject is not always a fun one to think about – but if we do take the time to think about how we manage our assets, we can hopefully become better photographers in the process, by virtue of training our eyes to see through the chaffe and help reduce the need for deleting photos.  Imagine if all your shots were keepers!  My God, think of the storage needs!

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  • Gary

    It would seem you are playing with trouble with your backup scheme. If the Y drive fails, you loose everything on the drive–your original files and your backup. Two separate 500 gb drives would be a safer approach, that is, don’t put all your files on one drive

    May 1, 2009 at 7:29 am
  • Great stuff Jason (both of you). Thanks for putting it together – definately a useful derivative from the standard photography topics, but as important as any of them

    May 1, 2009 at 10:11 am
  • Not exactly Gary – the Y drive is actually two 500 GB drives – remember? I split the partition, so that it’s actually two drives now with one scripted to back up to the latter nightly. I also have redundant backups of all my images going back at least the last 12 months on DVD, so even if both 500 GB drives fail, there’s the media backup to recover from.

    Thanks for reading though – always nice to hear thoughts and feedback from others.

    May 1, 2009 at 8:15 pm
  • Gary

    I would still rather have two separate physical drives rather than one partitioned drive as I have had drives fail and all partitions were affected.

    I have two 1TB external drives for backup and one 1TB internal data drive. For one external drive, I use a backup program that saves to a different folder each night so that I always have 7 recent backups [it could be a few days before you realize a file such as Lightroom’s catalog is corrupt]. The second external drive is a copy/mirror of my internal data drive with files updated nightly, but never deleted. In addition, all my non-photo data files are backed up each night to two different off site servers. Photos are backed up to a different off site server.

    Too much time doing backup? I learned the hard way when I did not backup everything and my in-home expert formatted my data drive rather than the C drive last winter. All the backup is done while I am sleeping. My data are valuable and I cannot afford to loose a digital negative, book chapter, or article.

    May 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm
  • It’s a trade-off, and a matter of scale and tolerance. While I understand your point, I think the article might not have been clear enough. The WD “Y” drive is actually two physical 500 GB drives – one is just hidden because I run a scripted back-up to it nightly. Nothing is partitioned. So, on that level, it sounds like our back-up strategies are actually more similar than divergent, although I do not keep 7 copies of each back-up, simply because my risk/tolerance level is lower – while I might be pretty upset if I lose data, truth be told, the world will not stop spinning if I lose everything. On that basis – will the world stop spinning if you do? 🙂

    May 3, 2009 at 9:56 pm

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